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Being a muslim in a non-muslim majority country, I have always had to scrutinize ingredients at the back of food products to determine whether they are halal or not. If not approached in the right way, halal shopping can become a confusing process and it is easy to give up if you don’t understand where or who to check with.

One thing I did sometime last year was email Halal helpline in order to clarify some issues. Firstly, I found out that Australia had stopped producing emulsifiers since 2006 and that all emulsifiers used in Australian made products are being imported from Malaysia (and have been certified as halal by the Malaysian government).

In other words, if you are holding an Australian Made product, you can be sure that the emulsifiers used in the product are halal. This still means that you need to check products that are not made in Australia and also scan for other haram ingredients like gelatine and alcohol.

Halal Helpline was initiated by the Halal Certification Authority Australia (HCAA) which is currently one of the largest certifiers in Australia, along with Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) and few others.

While products that contain only halal or some haram ingredients can be obvious, things get confusing if there are many ‘masbooh‘ or doubtful/questionable ingredients. In cases like that, it is best to call up the number on the packaging and check with the company’s customer service directly. Good questions to ask are “does this  product have halal certification?” or “is this particular additive plant  or animal based” or “is this product suitable for vegetarians?”.

To brush up on the various haram and masbooh ingredients you need to watch out for, download this brochure by AFIC http://www.afic.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/what-is-halal.pdf.

Also, here is a rather old but reasonably comprehensive Halal product guide from that lists many halal products.   http://www.international.utas.edu.au/student-support/australian-culture-customs/documents/HalalFoodGuide.pdf

To download a comprehensive guide on halal establishments in NSW, click here –> http://www.msda.org.au/web_images/halal%20restaurants.pdf. As it says on the file, the establishments listed may change status without notice. Therefore please also inquire directly.

And finally, if you have any product enquiries, you can always email or call Halal Helpline. They are very quick at responding to emails and are a very  helpful team to speak to.

Halal Helpline: Email – info@halalhelpline.org, Tel = (02) 9232 6731

Alternatively, you can contact AFIC on halal@afic.com.au (if you are in Sydney) and aficmelb@bigpond.com (Melbourne).

Thanks for reading! Please share any resources, checklists or guides that you are currently using. How do you go about halal shopping?

 Disclaimer: Above information is subject to change or differ based on schools of thought/halal certification company. EatprayGrow is not liable for any action based on this information.

For Non-Nuslim health professionals – links to save for the future!  🙂 

Here is a friendly site for those looking to better understand food habits of Muslim clients/patients www.ifanca.org, run by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA).

And here is a really good brochure specifically written for Non-Muslim healthcare professionals on caring for Muslim patients. 🙂 http://www.afic.com.au/?p=497&c=2024

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Make this Ramadan your healthiest one yet!

Ramadan is the most spiritual month during the year for every muslim. In order to obtain the maximum spiritual and physical effects from Ramadan, it is essential that you eat well during the non fasting hours. As explained in my previous post, the fast of Ramadan can improve a person’s health but if the correct diet is not followed, it can possibly worsen it! The deciding factor is not the fast itself but rather what is consumed in the non-fasting hours.

Overeating can not only the harm the body but it is also thought to interfere with a person’s spiritual growth during the month. A diet that has less than a normal amount of food, but is sufficiently balanced will keep a person healthy and active during the month of Ramadan.

So what should the ideal ramadan diet look like? The diet should be simple and not differ too much from one’s normal everyday diet. It should contain foods from all the major food groups as shown in the plate model below.

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Many of the foods which are mentioned and encouraged are in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah also correspond to modern guidelines on a healthy diet. These will help to maintain balanced, healthy meals in ramadan.

The most commonly consumed foods by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were milk, dates, lamb/mutton and oats. Healthy foods mentioned in the Holy Quran are fruit and vegetables like olives, figs, onion, cucumber, dates, grapes as well as pulses such as lentils. Fish is also encouraged as the Islamic law spares fish from any specific slaughter requirements, making it easy to incorporate fish in our diet.

That’s all easier said than done you say! Here are some practical tips and recipes that you can use to make your next Ramadan a more healthful one.

  • For suhoor time, make sure you include some complex carbohydrates which are found in foods like barley,wheat, oats, millets, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour, basmati rice, etc. Complex Carbohydrates are foods that will help release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting.
  • Fibre-rich foods are also excellent for suhoor time as they are also digested slowly. Examples of fibre rich foods include bran, cereals, whole wheat, grains and seeds, potatoes with the skin, vegetables such as green beans and almost all fruit including apricots, prunes, figs, etc
  • For iftaar time, nothing beats dates to break the fast. Dates provide a refreshing burst of energy and are of course an important tradition of the Prophet (pbuh). Fruit juices and milk drinks (like sherbet/faluda) will also have a similar, revitalising effect and are much more nutritious than sodas and cordials. Fruit salads, low fat yoghurt and ice cream are also ideal snacks. Don’t have to say no to the delicious fried snacks by try not to go crazy on them either. Consider alternate ways of cooking them like baking instead of deep frying. Keep in mind that the meal should remain a meal and not become a feast! (See table below for more tips for Iftar time).

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Table: Courtesy of NHS CIA guide

  • Overeating during iftaar time will leave you sluggish and unable to concentrate in prayers at night.
  • During the night, limit caffeinated drinks like coke which can dehydrate you causing headaches the next day. If you are a regular tea or coffee drinker, having them at suhoor time can prevent withdrawal headaches during the day. Or even better, use this opportunity to un-addict yourself by gradually reducing the number of cups of tea or coffee you have.
  • Lastly, make sure you drink plenty of water to ensure you are adequately hydrated during the day.

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All the best with Ramadan this year!


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Fasting, Ramadan and Nutrition

Not yet time for Ramadan, but it will come around before you know it! .

Definition of Fasting: Fasting is complete abstinence from food and drink between dawn and dusk. All those ill or frail, pregnant and menstruating women, breast feeding mothers and travellers are exempted. They are required to make the number of days missed at a later date or give a fixed sum in charity.

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As there are numerous health concerns raised regarding the Islamic fasting in Ramadan, with many wondering whether it is really good or bad for your health, I thought maybe it would be good to think about what really happens to the body when we fast.

The changes that occur in the body in response to fasting actually depend on the length of the continuous fast. The body enters into a fasting state eight hours or so after the last meal, when the gut has finished absorbing nutrients from the food. In the normal (or fed) state, the body uses glucose which is stored in the liver and muscles as the main source of energy. During a fast, this store of glucose is the first to provide energy and the first to be depleted. Once these stores have run out, the body starts using fat stores to provide energy. Small amounts of glucose are also produced through other mechanisms in the liver.

Only with a prolonged fast of many days to weeks, does the body eventually turn to protein for energy. This is known as starvation response and is the body’s way of keeping you alive for as long as possible. It involves protein being released from muscle breakdown and can cause people who starve to become very weak and wasted. As the Ramadan fast only extends from dawn till dusk there is plenty of opportunity for the faster to replenish energy stores at pre-dawn and dusk meals. During this time there is a gentle transition from using glucose to fat as the main source of energy and prevents the breakdown of muscle for protein. Usage of fat for energy aids weight loss, minimal effects on the muscle and in the long term can reduce your cholesterol levels. Weight loss also results in better control of blood pressure and improve your body’s ability to utilise insulin.

After a few days of the fast, higher levels of endorphins or ‘happy hormones’ appear in the blood resulting in a better level of alertness and an overall feeing of general mental well-being.

However, in order to receive maximum physical and spiritual benefit from fasting it is essential that there is balanced food and fluid intake between fasts. The kidney is very efficient at maintaining the body’s water and salts, such as sodium and potassium, however these can be lost through sweating and have to be replaced. Also to prevent muscle break down, meals must contain adequate levels of energy foods such as carbohydrates and some fats. Hence a balanced diet with adequate quantities of nutrients, salts and water is vital.

Unfortunately, many Muslims find that they are lazy and lethargic during Ramadan and some actually put on weight! This is predominantly due to unhealthy cultural eating practices at the iftaar (dusk meal) and suhoor (dawn meal). In order to find out what you really should be eating to stay healthy and maintain your energy throughout the day and maintain (or lose) weight, stay tuned to my next post! 😀

 

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Food and spirituality

Hi all!!

As my profession ‘kind of’ revolves around food, nutrition and the human physiology, I have recently developed a deep curiosity to find out where food fits in Islam and what Islam says about good health and spirituality. So here is my first blog post, on food and spirituality.

Food has great significance in Islam and is often associated with one’s relationship with Allah. In Surah (20) verse 89, the Quran states “eat of the good and wholesome things that We have provided for your sustencance, but indulge in no excess therein.”   No statement have I ever read that pretty much sums up the essence of food and nutrition in 1 perfect sentence. Now that goes without saying.

The physical body is a gift from God; it is given to humans as an amanah (trust) to be taken care of for a limited period of time. How much food is consumed and the choice of food has a direct impact on the physical and spiritual well-being of the person. In fact, the food you consume can actually affect your behaviour and personality. Wholesome, natural and healthy food assists the development of a good personality. At the same time, overeating can cause sluggishness, thereby ‘dampening’ the soul, hampering spiritual growth and increase physical ailments.

The blessed Prophet (pbuh) has said: “The children of Adam fill no vessel worse than their stomach. Sufficient for him is a few morsels to keep his back straight. If he must eat more, then a third should be for his food, a third for his drink and a third left for air”. (Sunan al- Tirmidhi).

Islam makes a strong connection between food and worship and numerous restrictions are placed on what can be eaten and what cannot be eaten (halal, haram etc.). During fasting, being deprived of food during the day is able to significantly enhance your spirituality and closeness to God. Fasting also teaches us to manage and practise spirituality and to not eat excessively. At the same time, we are also taught to be grateful and thankful for the food we get.

And finally, the noble Prophet once said: “God has a right over you; your body has a right over you…” Therefore let us make new resolutions to eat and live healthier, not just for your waistline, but because it is an essential aspect of worship.

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